Enviro refrigerator design from Einstein and Szilard. Wha?

Actually, I’m not that startled about the design. I was a 2nd-generation tech at GE – and my father worked on fridges of this design before and during the transition to freon-based compressor styles.

An early invention by Albert Einstein has been rebuilt by scientists at Oxford University who are trying to develop an environmentally friendly refrigerator that runs without electricity.

Malcolm McCulloch, an electrical engineer at Oxford who works on green technologies, is leading a three-year project to develop more robust appliances that can be used in places without electricity.

His team has completed a prototype of a type of fridge patented in 1930 by Einstein and his colleague, the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard. It had no moving parts and used only pressurised gases to keep things cold. The design was partly used in the first domestic refrigerators, but the technology was abandoned when more efficient compressors became popular in the 1950s. That meant a switch to using freons.

Pressurised gas fridges based around Einstein’s design were replaced by freon-compressor fridges partly because Einstein and Szilard’s design was not very efficient. But McCulloch thinks that by tweaking the design and replacing the types of gases used it will be possible to quadruple the efficiency. He also wants to take the idea further. The only energy input needed into the fridge is to heat a pump, and McCulloch has been working on powering this with solar energy.

‘No moving parts is a real benefit because it can carry on going without maintenance. This could have real applications in rural areas,’ he said.

Terrific. Sometimes I wonder about how many great ideas are gathering dust because, accidentally or intentionally, the economics of the times didn’t encourage mass production?